Starting in June this year, Cathay Pacific will operate the first direct flight between China and Ireland—prompting hopes from Irish tourism and business leaders that the direct connection will bring ample business opportunities to Ireland. The direct connection is a big win for Irish tourism, which until now has relied on Chinese visitors to take a detour to Ireland from continental Europe or the neighboring United Kingdom.

While the new direct flight is “only” from the Special Administrative Region (S.A.R.) of Hong Kong, and not from a city in mainland China, it is still poised to reduce travel time for Chinese tourists to Ireland. The tourism market primarily targeted with the new direct flights are the 100 million Chinese nationals living in the vicinity of Hong Kong in Southern China—a vast new tourism market for Ireland to explore.

The new flight could bring as many as 58,240 new travelers to Ireland every year

Cathay Pacific’s new Hong Kong – Dublin route will see flights between the destinations four times every week and will likely prove to be a healthy injection of new tourists for both Dublin and Ireland as a whole. An Airbus A350-900 will be deployed on the route and should bring approximately 280 passengers to Ireland from Hong Kong each flight if it follows Cathay Pacific’s standard cabin configuration. In other words, the new flight could bring as many as 58,240 tourists to Dublin each year, most of whom will likely be Chinese tourists.

“There are only about 40,000 visitors [to Dublin] from mainland China each year, which is very small compared with other cities, which receive hundreds of thousands of mainland tourists. The lack of a direct flight may be the reason, and we hope the new flights from Hong Kong will change that,” Michael D’Arcy, Minister of State at Ireland’s finance department, said in an interview with Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Star Wars and Game of Thrones may help underline Ireland’s tourism appeal

D’Arcy also emphasizes the potential of Star Wars and Game of Thrones as travel influencers in China, as both series feature numerous locations filmed in Ireland. To underline Ireland’s ties to these wildly famous franchises, the Irish tourism office in China has integrated them into their Chinese-language marketing materials.

For Tourism Ireland, however, a direct flight between Dublin and Hong Kong may only be a first step in the direction of receiving more tourists from China. While Hong Kong is a vital hub for transcontinental travel in East Asia, stakeholders are hoping that Dublin will become the home of more direct routes to China. D’Arcy, in his interview with South China Morning Post, says that he hopes that the future will bring direct connections to Beijing and Shanghai as well.

Next stops: Beijing and Shanghai?

The new flight connection is also a welcome development as Ireland seeks to diversify its tourism source markets in anticipation of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. “As we await clarity on how Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will play out, it is important for companies to consider opportunities in new markets,” Dublin Chamber chief executive Mary Rose Burke said in an interview with The Irish Times.

And while another flight to the United Kingdom might have seemed like a safer bet before, with the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote, the tides may be turning in the British Isles. Perhaps the next big flight announcement is for another China – Ireland route rather than an expansion of the UK’s already existing route network to China.

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Destinations, Transportation